Amid summer’s bounty, as I haul bags and boxes of produce from garden to kitchen, I always want more. I clean and trim and slice and wonder whether each root tip and leafy top that lands in my compost bucket could find its way into a dish or jar instead. The nose-to-tail approach to cooking meats could be called tip to top for vegetables and fruits, and that remains my goal throughout the growing season. It’s a goal that aligns nicely with this week’s challenge for the Montana Local Food Challenge.
Some of your harvest lends itself easily to the idea: people eat beet greens as readily as beet roots. Others seem obvious when you think about it. Like peas? The shoots carry a similar flavor and can be turned into pesto or simply mixed into salads. Grow storage onions? The green tops can be used like scallions and even lightly trimmed while the bulbs are still growing. And the classic processed watermelon rind pickle can be ready to eat alongside the juicy pink melon.
Quick-Pickled Watermelon Rind
1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3-3/4 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Cut the mini watermelon in half (or sections if using part of a larger melon), and then cut out the red flesh, leaving about 1/2 inch of the flesh on the rind; set the bulk of the flesh aside for another use, refrigerating it you plan to make salad (see below). Use a vegetable peeler to remove the dark green skin. Cut the peeled rind into 1-inch strips and then 1-inch squares until you have about 5 cups of rind.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, salt, and ground spices, and then add the watermelon rind. Return the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat so that it simmers for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let cool for about 1 hour to room temperature.
Scoop the watermelon rind into a wide-mouth quart canning jar or similarly sized container, gently packing in the cubes so that the red flesh stays intact. Pour over the vinegar mixture until it covers the cubes, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Screw on a used canning lid and ring or plastic storage lid, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving; eat within 10 days. Makes about 1 quart.
Tips & Tricks
- When you turn watermelon rind into processed pickles, you typically use just the pale green rind; the dark green skin is too tough, and the red flesh will become mush in the boiling water bath. With a quick pickle, you can leave some red on the rind for color and flavor.
- I avoid seasoned rice vinegar in all of my cooking, opting instead for a bottle with two ingredients: water and rice. It usually comes in at 4.3% acidity. You could opt for a seasoned vinegar or a stronger white wine vinegar, which would give more sweetness or more bite, respectively to your pickle.
- If you’ll be letting the watermelon sit a day or so before eating it, you can substitute in fresh ginger and whole spices. But when I’m making quick pickles that will be eaten within a couple of hours for Twice as Tasty Live events, I find ground spices release their flavor the fastest.
- I rarely make pickles as sweet as this recipe, but in this case the sugar helps with preservation in the fridge. It also changes the rind from a mild, neutral flavor to a sweet bite matching the flesh left on each cube. For a more savory pickle, use a higher-acid vinegar and spice it with ground mustard or dill seed, cumin, and chilies.
Twice as Tasty
Fruits offer less opportunity than vegetables for expanded tip-to-top eating. We already eat berries whole, bite through the skins of stone fruits, and zest citrus peels. The challenge instead is to find new ways to enjoy the fruit we already eat, which for me can mean balancing their natural sweetness with savory flavors: cherries and sour cream, mango and arugula, orange and beets, strawberries and vinegar. In this way, fruit quickly becomes part of any meal. I pile berries on tangy Fresh Yogurt at breakfast and add a handful to vegetable-heavy salads at dinner. Better yet, you can keep the fruit, like watermelon, as the main salad ingredient and cut its intense sweetness with salty cheese, tart citrus juice, and savory spices.
1/2 pound Dry-Salted Feta
1 serrano pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons lime juice
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
Cut the watermelon flesh and feta into bite-size cubes, adding them to a large serving bowl. Deseed and mince the chili, gently tossing it with the cubes.
In a small glass measuring cup, combine the lime juice, salt, and cumin; whisk in the oil until it forms a smooth emulsion.
Just before serving, chop the mint. Whisk the dressing again and add half to the watermelon mixture. Toss gently, taste, and add more dressing as needed. Add the mint, toss again gently, and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- Quick-Pickled Watermelon Rind needs to sit for a couple of hours, but this salad is best made just before serving; the melon and cheese can sit a little while, soaking in the heat of the chili, but the cheese will soften a bit. The dressing could be made ahead. Although watermelon pickles will keep a few days, melon salad leftovers can turn soggy, so it’s worth mixing fresh for each meal.
- If you’re grinding your own spices, toast the cumin seeds first. It will add a warm flavor that works well with the juicy melon.
- Mint grows so vigorously you should have plenty when melons ripen, but other fresh herbs can be substituted, such as basil or sorrel. Other chilies can replace the serrano but may give more or less heat.
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Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- I advocate reusing old canning lids and rings, and you need to eat watermelon rind pickles so quickly that they should work fine. But I’ve found that vinegar and salt brines can eat away at the metal when the contents are stored for months at fridge temperatures or are used repeatedly. So for refrigerated pickles, I invested in sturdy, highly reusable plastic storage lids.
- It seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many kitchens I’ve been in with dull or poorly made vegetable peelers. If you can’t peel a watermelon with your peeler, chances are it does a poor job on apples, cucumbers, and carrots too. A good peeler is a small but worthwhile purchase; I’ve had this one for nearly 20 years.
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